A Conscience as Clear as Your Skin

31st August 2018

For the 600,000 vegans in Great Britain, looking good isn’t just about what a product promises to deliver, but what it took to make it in the first place. Claire Mould investigates.

According to the Vegan Society the number of vegans in Great Britain has doubled twice in the past four years, from 150,000 in 2014 to 600,000 in 2018. It’s no surprise, therefore, that such explosive growth has seen a step change in the industries serving this market. Not only are more and more restaurants becoming ‘vegan friendly’ but increasing numbers of brands are offering vegan clothing and accessories too.

However, it’s the beauty market that has seen the greatest impact, with sales of vegan prestige beauty products in the UK up 38% in the 12-month period February 2017 to the end of January 2018 according to global information company The NPD Group. Moreover, it found that beauty brands with cruelty-free certification grew by 18% compared to the overall category, which grew only 7%, indicating that consumers – whether vegan or not – are increasingly concerned about animal welfare when selecting products to buy and brands to support.

Notably, according to a new report by Grand View Research Inc, the global vegan cosmetics market is currently projected to reach USD 20.8 billion by 2025, with spiralling demand for vegan cosmetics among millennials stated to be one of the key growth drivers.

I have to confess that the concept of vegan beauty products hadn’t really registered with me until watching Coronation Street one night, when a vegan character challenged her sister about what was in the nail polish she was using! What’s become clear since, though, is that identifying and avoiding animal ingredients is not always an easy task.

“There are many ways that animal-derived ingredients can slip under the radar in beauty products, mostly because they are listed ambiguously on the label,” explains Dominika Piasecka, spokesperson for The Vegan Society. “For example, glycerin and xanthan gum can both be derived from either plant or animal sources, as can ingredients with ‘stearate’ in. Cetyl alcohol might be vegan on rare occasions but most of the time it comes from sperm whales. Cetearyl alcohol, on the other hand, is vegan – it’s easy to confuse the two.”

Some companies also choose to use Latin names for their ingredients list, so beeswax could be cunningly disguised as Cera Alba or E901, say. “Colourings and finishes can also contain animal ingredients,” continues Dominika. “Fish scales – named guanine on pack –and pearl powder make lipsticks and other make up sparkly. Carmine, which is manufactured using insects such as cochineal, is commonly used in red makeup products but it can also be hidden under names such as Crimson Lake, Carmine Lake, natural red 4, C.I. 75470 or E120.”

Given the difficulty in identifying true vegan products, and the fact that the term ‘vegan’ isn’t legally protected when it comes to labelling cosmetics and body-care products, the Vegan Society has its own Vegan trademark. An experienced team thoroughly checks each application to ensure the product adheres to the Society’s strict criteria: that there are no animal ingredients, that the ingredients used have never been tested on animals and that the processing aids used in the manufacturing are also vegan. Currently over 11,000 cosmetic and toiletries products are registered with the scheme, covering around 400 brands.
One major ongoing issue for beauty companies is that China – which is on course to become the world’s largest cosmetics market – still requires mandatory animal testing on all cosmetic products manufactured outside the country. This means that, by law, a company with products that are vegan-friendly and cruelty-free has no choice but to submit their range for testing if they want to access the lucrative Chinese market. Last year saw leading brand Nars on the receiving end of a huge consumer backlash when it announced plans to target China and therefore to submit its products to animal testing – despite previously advocating the importance of being cruelty-free. Critics accusing it of prioritising profits over values.

Being beauty-conscious and vegan is, however, getting easier.

When Superdrug launched its popular vegan collection B., it aimed to be the first high street brand offering a complete range of vegan and cruelty-free makeup, skincare, grooming and beauty accessories. Its success in the vegan market means that searches for ‘vegan makeup’ on superdrug.com are twenty times higher than they were around this time last year, while sales of B. Micellar Water have almost doubled in 2018.

Superdrug’s commitment to being vegan friendly – and producing high quality products that won’t break the bank – has seen it spend the past few years focusing on changing formulations to be able to offer its biggest ever range suitable for vegans. As a result it now offers over 1,000 products, culminating in the recent launch of its Little Vegan Pop Up Shop at Boxpark in Shoreditch, offering customers vegan (and only vegan) products from every area of the store.

Meanwhile, 95% of the products currently produced by perennial favourite Barry M are vegan and can be easily identified by a little vegan symbol on their list of ingredients. As a brand that has been cruelty-free since its inception, the company has confirmed that offering a fantastic range of vegan products is now a key driver of its new product development strategy and that it will also be looking to replace the final 5% of the product range with fully vegan alternatives.

The tidal wave of interest from consumers who want to not only look good but also feel good about their purchase (56% of UK adults are now adopting vegan buying behaviours according to the Vegan Society regardless of whether they are vegan or not) has also led to a number of new 100% vegan brands entering the market.

Newcomer BYBI Beauty’s emphasis is on transparency, believing that everyone deserves to know exactly what’s in their beauty products, and innovation: ‘because ‘natural’ doesn’t have to mean basic’. In keeping with its ethos, it was one of the first beauty brands to use tubes and lids made of sugarcane – a biodegradable material – rather than plastic to help customers embark on a completely zero-waste beauty routine.

Having seen first-hand how many beauty products are made using cheap, toxic and animal-derived ingredients while running a cosmetics store in Birmingham, the founders of PHB Ethical Beauty decided to ‘be the change they wanted to see’ and to create their own product range. After two years of research, testing and perfecting product formulas, the brand launched to great acclaim and is now stocked in over 40 countries worldwide. Demand is such that the company has experienced over 50% growth year on year since 2014.

What’s clear is that vegan is no longer the poor relation of the big beauty family, with brands focusing on delivering the very best products they can, rather than simply stripping out animal ingredients and replacing them with vegan -friendly substitutes. It’s something that Peter Green, spokesperson for Beauty Without Cruelty, is keen to emphasise: “Vegan beauty really does compete in terms of performance and we are committed to premium performance at a fair price.”

And that commitment to product quality is resulting in a whole host of new brands and ‘must have’ products to add to your vegan-friendly make-up bag… Your conscience really can be as clear as your skin.

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